Dreading the Scissors

Rapunzel ventures into the lion's den — and finds it hypnotically appealing

I hate getting my hair cut. I hate the awkward, stilted conversations you have with hairdressers — those perfect strangers who just happen to be paid to wield scissors dangerously close to your throat. I hate how salons are as sterile and devoid of character — and damned near as threatening — as a dentist's office or a hospital waiting room. I calculate that if I continue to dodge regular haircuts, by the end of the year, I should be able to pull a man through my bedroom window using my hair as rope.

Yeah, I'm supposed to be stylish and cutting-edge, but I'd rather do any number of tasks (a 24-hour Kenny G marathon? hand-scrub the rain gutters?) before setting foot in any place that has picture books full of pouty models flaunting spiky bangs. But when I heard about the Sunday-night grand opening of the Luis Hernandez Salon and Art Shop (142 SE Fifth Ave., Delray Beach), I put aside my all-encompassing hatred of those who want to separate my hair from the rest of my body. After all, I reasoned, a hairstylist who throws a party with massage, music, snacks, and a stocked bar can't be all bad.

First Impressions: People spilled from the modest building, gathering on the cement driveway out front and at the foot of the eye-catching shop sign. Well-dressed and of a variety of ethnicities, they chewed on appetizers plucked off haphazardly placed tables and sipped drinks from the bar. Well, if I was going to crash the grand opening of a hair salon, I was going to do it balls out, a strong drink in my hand.

It suddenly dawned on me: I'd never even met Luis before. How would I even know him when I saw him? Then my eyes fell on a short, dark-complexioned man wearing a shirt that read "Stop da faux-king war" (a shirt of his own creation, it turned out). Underneath that, he wore a pink shirt and matching tie. By the way he was smiling and posing for picture after picture, I knew I had my guy.

"What led you to open this place?" I asked.

"The last place I worked was pretty conservative, and I needed a place people could be freely expressive," he said. "That, and I took a Landmark communication seminar, and it really opened doors. If you put yourself in people's lives, they'll come into yours."Actually, I'd heard of Landmark — written off by some cynics as a squishy-headed cult. A few years ago, I had a boss who was always trying to talk me into attending Landmark seminars, saying it would "take my life to the next level" by forcing me to deal with the past. All for a few hundred dollars. No thanks, buddy.

"It's like that book The Secret," he said, his tone suitably Zen. "If you put yourself out there, you'll get good things back."

"That's called 'karma,' " I said. Karma's kicked my ass enough times that I sure don't need to have it explained to me by a pricey seminar. A woman handed Luis a bouquet of flowers, and a wide smile broke across his face. "Oh my God, I feel like a prom queen!" he squealed.

When I finally caught his attention again, he offered me a tour of the salon. A small bar had been set up, the ceilings were painted blue with white clouds, and art decorated every visible wall. To the right, a small section of the open room was furnished with salon chairs, drying stations, and a huge mirror. I followed him along the red-brown tile to the back room, separated from the main area by a hanging white curtain. Two massage therapists were there, busily rubbing the tightness out of partygoers' muscles. In the background, I heard DJ Dean Michaels blasting Timbaland's "The Way I Are."

Holy shit, I'd get my hair cut every damned day if all hair salons were awesome parties like this.

Drinks: Absinthe kicked my ass harder than karma ever had. The woman behind the bar said it came from France, available over the internet. Absinthe, the drink of choice of Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec during their most degenerate Blue Periods, is made from wormwood. It's hallucinogenic in large doses, and it's illegal in the United States. Forget the trippin' — the disgusting, kindling-flavored kick in the mouth is the reason it should be illegal. The bartender took a small plastic cup, poured about a cordial glassful of absinthe in, held a sugar cube on a spoon over it, and poured the distilled water until the sugar dissolved into the absinthe. Committed to furthering my career as a professional drinker, I choked down three green-tinted mouthfuls — and promptly tried to scratch out the woody, licorice-like aftertaste by swishing with Sprite.

The Bathroom: People had scrawled all over its walls like it was a junior-high yearbook — multicolored public announcements of how much everyone loves Luis. I picked up a colored marker prepared to make my own mark. Surely, I thought, I could come up with something better than this dreck (urging Luis to "live fiercely" and "carpe diem"). Poetry? I'll give you poetry. I'd just come up with the first line ("There was a young man from Nantucket" ... of course), when a clean-cut dude in a polo opened the door.

"Oh, sorry, I'm just the marker guy," Josh said, brandishing an unopened pack of permanent markers.

I dropped my own marker, grudgingly brushing off the intrusion (which in nonarts circles might have got Josh busted for voyeurism or flagrant interruption), and grilled the dude.

"I met Luis through Landmark," said Josh, who wore an earring. "He was totally different when I first met him — never took anything seriously, didn't think he could accomplish anything."

Landmark, my elbow. Bet Luis was richer before he signed on.

"It totally changes people's lives," Josh said. "I was afraid of swimming in the ocean at night. And black men. And, for only $440, I'm cured completely." Swimming in the ocean at night seems like a healthy fear to have. That other one? No comment.

Art: Quickly distancing myself from Josh, I perused the eclectic assortment of paintings and, uh, art objects with which Luis had decorated the walls. Someone had cleverly used tinfoil to spell out the word fuck on a painted canvas — and who doesn't appreciate creative profanity?

Three paintings of a topless woman with a huge Afro decorated one wall, and painted skateboards, decorated to look like colorful, fanged demons, adorned another.

Patrick, tall, lanky, and curly haired, was the painter of two canvases — one a sunflower, the other a Pollock-like Kraft macaroni mess full of rampant paint splashes. Both were mostly yellow, and neither had a visible price. I fed Patrick some polite praise, then popped the awkward question:

"So what do they, um, represent?"

"The sunflower is titled Ah! Sunflower, from the William Blake poem," Patrick said. "I tried to take a beautiful object and reverse its beauty." I stared at the painting, turning my head this way and that. Nope, it was still a sunflower and still sort of pretty. He was asking $400 for it.

"Do you have an online portfolio?" I asked.

"No, I try and keep technology and science away from art," Patrick said. "They're in their own category, and I feel like they taint the integrity."

I later discovered that Patrick had discovered Luis through a Craigslist ad (still posted under the title "Artistic minds coming together now!!!")

Of course, Luis' ideas about community arts weren't getting him any closer to my head with a pair of scissors, but Timbaland and the open bar had a powerful tidal pull. Here's the real secret, boys: If you can't trust a guy who can turn a hair salon into a kickass party pad, who can you trust? Sometime in the next millennium or so, I might have to get one of those poochy shags or asymmetrical butch cuts. And Luis just might be the guy to do it.

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